How important are defensive linemen? In the 2003 draft, 11 were selected in the first round. Before 2003, the most was nine in 2001. In 1997, we had seven defensive ends selected in Round 1, the most at any position in the past 10 years in the first round.
Of the 11 selected in the first round in 2003, four played more than 60 percent of the defensive plays for their team in their rookie season (Kevin Williams, Minnesota; Tyler Brayton, Oakland; Calvin Pace, Arizona; Dewayne Robertson, N.Y. Jets).
To win games, teams must be able to stop the run and pressure the passer, which helps defensive backs play well. Defensive ends that play on the backside of quarterbacks are especially important (Mike Vrabel of the New England Patriots is a prime example of this).
The two teams that played in Super Bowl XXXVIII were considered to be good defensive teams during the regular season. The Pats gave up a league-low 14.9 points per game while the Carolina Panthers gave up 19 points per game.
In 2003, the Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles combined for 21 consecutive victories, only the seventh time in history that two teams won a combined 20 straight games in a season. New England was No. 1 in scoring defense and the Eagles were seventh overall. These two teams are a good example of why teams want defensive linemen. Here are my rankings for defensive ends.
Click here to see my rankings for defensive tackles.
1. Will Smith, Ohio State (6-23/4, 275)
Did not work out at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Had a complete workout at Ohio State's Pro Day, where he weighed in at 267. Ran his 40s in 4.60 and 4.58 and had a 381/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-9 long jump and he benched 225 pounds a total of 30 times. Had 20 sacks his senior year of high school. Played basketball for three years and ran track (sprints and long jump) in high school in Utica, N.Y. Played in all 12 games as a true freshman in 2000 at Ohio State and started the next three years. Makes plays all over the field. He can drop in coverage or rush the passer. A very competitive player. Works to get off blocks. Strong player who plays with good leverage. Strong explosive upfield rusher. Very good person who works hard. No off-the-field problems. Can play in space or with hand on the ground. I don't think you will ever have a problem with him. Has a very good NFL future.
1a. Kenechi Udeze, Southern California (6-2 7/8, 281)
Did not work out at the combine. Had a complete workout at USC's Pro Day, where he weighed in at 273. Ran his 40s in 4.77 and 4.81 and had a 39-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-5 long jump, 25 strength lifts and ran 4.73 in the short shuttle and 7.77 in the three-cone drill. Played both offensive line and defensive line in high school. Had 27 sacks in final two seasons. Weighed 355 pounds in high school and had over 30 percent body fat. Had a hard time bending over to tie his shoes, and now has 8 percent body fat. Lost 80 pounds by the time 2001 season started in USC. Was redshirted in 2000 at USC. Started 10 games in 2001 and started every game in 2002 and 2003. Had 161/2 sacks in 2003. Plays with high intensity. Plays strongside defensive end (left) and does a very good job against the run. First name means "God's love will always be with me." Mother raised four children. Brother is a lawyer and another attends Carleton College in Minnesota.
3. Jason Babin, Western Michigan (6-2 5/8, 260)
Had a complete workout at the combine. He ran two 40s (4.64, 4.67), the short shuttle (4.14) and the three-cone drill (7.03). He also had a 34-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-1 broad jump and 28 strength lifts. He worked out as a defensive lineman and a linebacker. Played running back in high school and also won state wrestling title. At WMU, he started one game as a freshman in 2000. He started every game in 2002 and 2003, and had 30 sacks in that span. He had five sacks against Miami (Fla.) in 2001. This player works very hard to be good. Works hard in weight room and on the field. Does a good job rushing off the edge. Very durable, will compete, has outstanding character, plays on special teams. Must find a position for him. Can he be a 3-4 player?
4. Shaun Phillips, Purdue (6-3 1/8, 255)
Had a complete workout at the combine, where he ran his 40s in 4.78 and 4.80. Had a 33-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-6 long jump and ran a 4.23 short shuttle and 6.56 three-cone drill. Did not lift; worked out at defensive end and linebacker. Worked out again at Purdue's Pro Day. Ran his 40s in 4.72 and 4.66 and had 19 strength lifts. Played defensive end and wide receiver in high school. Also played basketball and ran track. Did not play in 1999 at Purdue (non-qualifier). Has started four years at defensive end. A little undersized for the position. Has some pass-rush ability. Will be able to get past bigger people in the NFL. Gives good effort and runs hard to the ball.
5. Tommy Kelly, Mississippi State (6-5 7/8, 294)
Had a complete workout at the combine, running his 40s in 4.87 and 4.94. Had a 25-inch vertical jump, 8-foot-9 long jump, 24 strength lifts and ran 4.45 in the short shuttle and 7.70 in the three-cone drill. Worked out again his Pro Day but did not do as well as he did numbers-wise at the combine. Played only one year of high school football. Started school at Hinds Junior College, but did not start. Also attended East Mississippi Junior College. Transferred to Mississippi State in 2001 and started seven games at defensive tackle. Started most games in 2002 and 2003. Had four sacks in 2003, giving him a total of six in three years. Has the speed and size you want for the position. Needs to play with sense of urgency. Flashes ability at times, but gets cut a lot.
6. Antwan Odom, Alabama (6-53/4, 274)
Had a complete workout at the combine. He ran two 40s (4.72, 4.77), the short shuttle (4.44) and the three-cone drill (7.30). He also had a 37-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-6 broad jump and 21 strength lifts. He performed field drills at Alabama's Pro Day. Played defensive end and tight end in high school. Parade All-American and Alabama Player of the Year. At Alabama, he played as a true freshman in 2000 and started two games. He had shoulder surgery in 2001 and was given a medical redshirt. He started five games in 2002. He had 17 sacks his last two years. He has the ability (size, speed, quickness, 353/4-inch arm length) to be a very good player. He needs to get stronger and use his hands better.
7. Marquise Hill, LSU (6-6 5/8, 305)
Lifted 23 times and had a 29-inch vertical jump and 8-foot-10 long jump at the combine. Also worked out at LSU's Pro Day and ran his 40s in 5.22 and 5.30. Said he had hamstring tightness and did not run shuttles. Rated one of the top high school prospects after his senior year in high school (2000). Also played basketball and track. Played as a true freshman in 2001 at LSU but did not start. Started the past two seasons. A very big man with long arms. A young player, the kind that if you hit on can be really good. From single-parent family, has seen a lot in his short life.
8. Bo Schobel, TCU (6-5, 271)
Had a complete workout at the combine and ran his 40s in 4.80 and 4.84. Had a 321/2-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-1 long jump, 25 strength lifts, ran 4.38 in the short shuttle and 7.65 in the three-cone drill. Worked out at TCU's Pro Day where he weighed 260 and ran 4.75 and 4.78 in the 40-yard dash. Played defensive end, wide receiver and punter in high school and was also on the basketball and track teams, reaching the state finals in the discus. Redshirted in 1999 at TCU and has started the past three years. Had 15 sacks in 2003. Hard-working, reliable player who is a good, not great athlete. Plays hard every play of every game. Has two cousins playing in the NFL, Aaron (a second-round pick of the Bills) and Matt (a third-round pick of the Bengals).
9. Isaac Hilton, Hampton (6-3 3/8, 267)
Had a complete workout at the combine. He ran two 40s (4.57, 4.64), the short shuttle (4.48) and the three-cone drill (7.99). He also had a 361/2-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-3 broad jump and 31 strength lifts. In high school, he played basketball and was a state champion in the shot-put. Redshirted at Hampton in 1999. He started his last three years. Had 24 career sacks, including 13 in 2002 and five in 2003. The best way to describe this player is he is a track (fast) athlete trying to play football; the type of player who needs to be on a practice squad and play in NFL Europe. At the combine, he also worked out at linebacker.
10. Dave Ball, UCLA (6-5 3/8, 277)
Did not work out at the combine but did record 24 strength lifts. Worked out at UCLA's Pro Day but did not run because of a bad left calf. He had a 28-inch vertical jump, 8-foot-6 long jump, 4.63 in the short shuttle, a 7.46 three-cone drill and 29 lifts. Outstanding defensive end and basketball player in high school. Twin brother, Matt, also played at UCLA. Redshirted in 1999, started four games in 2000 and had started the past three years. Plays with a lot of effort. Had 161/2 sacks in 2003 and 111/2 in 2002. Said to have a lot going for him outside of football.
11. Bobby McCray, Florida (6-53/4, 255)
Had a complete workout at the combine. Ran his 40s in 4.62 and 4.70. Had a 331/2-inch vertical jump and 27 strength lifts. Worked out again at Florida's Pro Day and ran 4.75 in the 40-yard dash on grass. Had a 9-foot-7 long jump and ran 4.25 in the short shuttle and 7.26 in the three-cone drill. Outstanding high school player in Florida (Miami area) who missed games because of injuries his senior year. Redshirted in 1999 and played very little in 2000. Missed Orange Bowl game in 2002 due to a violation of team rules. Father is a coach. Has been an underachiever. Needs consistent intensity. Has tools to be pass rusher. Hard player to figure out.
12. Antonio Smith, Oklahoma State (6-3 3/8, 274)
Had a complete workout at the combine and ran his 40s in 4.99 and 5.05. Had a 33-inch vertical jump, 9-foot long jump, 24 strength lifts and ran 4.80 in the short shuttle. Worked out at his Pro Day, recording times of 4.93 and 5.03 in the 40-yard dash and also did position workouts. Came to Oklahoma State after playing two years in junior college. Had five sacks in 2003. Developing as a pass rusher. Has good quickness and works hard.
OTHERS TO WATCH:
Other defensive linemen who will be taken later in the draft and could surprise some people (alphabetical order):
Nathaniel Adibi, Virginia Tech (6-31/4, 254)
Can rush passer; explosive.
Darrell Campbell, Notre Dame (6-3 5/8, 302)
Strong; plays hard every play.
Roderick Green, Central Missouri (6-21/4, 246)
Explosive pass rusher.
Travis Laboy, Hawaii (6-31/4, 263)
Has pass rush skills.
Uyi Osunde, Connecticut (6-3 1/8, 252)
Possible 3-4 linebacker; can rush passer; 33 strength reps at NFL Scouting Combine.
Andrew Shull, Kansas State (6-41/2, 265)
Reggie Torbor, Auburn (6-2 1/8, 254)
Was high school running back. Edge rusher; had 101/2 sacks in 2003.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Twelve defensive linemen were picked with the first pick in the draft. Two have made the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Lee Roy Selmon (picked No. 1 in 1976) and Buck Buchanan (1962).
- Tommie Harris of Oklahoma has two cousins who have been drafted in the first round: Stockar McDougle by the Lions in 2000 and Jerome McDougle by the Eagles in 2003.
- Shaun Phillips of Purdue has worn three numbers at Purdue -- Nos. 53, 22 and 15 -- the past two years while playing the same position: defensive end.
- Marcus Tubbs of Texas likes to jet ski.
What scouts look for when grading defensive linemen:
- Ability to learn football
- Competitiveness and toughness
- Work habits
- Athletic ability
- Lateral quickness
- Strength at point
- Use of hands
- Stays on feet
- Pass rush
- Tackling ability
- Closing speed
Gil Brandt was vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-89. He is now in his eighth year as NFL.com's chief personnel guru. (Brandt is of no relation to Packers VP of Player Finance Andrew Brandt.)